Thanksgiving Break

This time of year reminds me of a predicament I found myself in a few years ago. It was November 2007, and I was, like so many music teachers, preparing my middle school bands for a December concert. Preparation was going smoothly; I was planning to fix a few problem spots and add the finishing touches after Thanksgiving.

Then, on the last day of Thanksgiving break, my wife broke her wrist seriously enough that she required surgery. I would need to be home with her for at least a week as she recuperated. Did I mention that the concert was scheduled for the second week of December? Did I mention that my classes were on a block schedule, meeting every other day? Given that it was highly unlikely that we could find a substitute who had the necessary skills to rehearse the groups, I pondered postponing or canceling the concert.

Fortunately, several of the pieces that the concert band and jazz ensemble planned to perform were in SmartMusic. I had been using the Gradebook to give assignments and the students were familiar with submitting their recordings and assessments. The Gradebook is web-based, so it can be accessed through a browser on any computer with an Internet connection. A plan was forming – perhaps I could guide my students’ practice from home.

First, I e-mailed the parents of my students to apprise them of the situation and asked them for their understanding and help. Then luck smiled on us. One substitute teacher, who’d taken my class previously, was also the parent of one of my students. She had been active in helping her child use SmartMusic and was a musician herself. Since she was familiar with SmartMusic, I was able to have her use SmartMusic with the students at school! I planned several activities, such as sections practicing key spots together with SmartMusic in a practice room. Practicing with the recordings in SmartMusic helped guide the students to have more meaningful practice time.

In the past I had requested that substitutes record my classes to cassette tape so I could review their progress upon my return. Now it was easy to record the bands using SmartMusic, and the resulting .MP3 files were easily e-mailed to me. After receiving and reviewing the recordings, I created SmartMusic assignments based on my assessments. I was able to “teach” my students even though I was at home (I can imagine my students’ moans and groans at learning this “good news”).

I returned to school the following week with the knowledge that improvements had been made despite the situation. When I stepped on the podium and addressed the students about what we needed to accomplish, they had already begun work on the problem areas. The concert went on as planned and the students performed very well.

Now, I am not recommending that this take the place of you rehearsing your groups, but the story does demonstrate what is possible with SmartMusic and the Gradebook.

Do you have your own story like this? Please let me know.

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